“I’m not racist!”

Conversations about race and racism are difficult. Often, we think of racism as terrible behaviour like people being beaten in public places, being  denied jobs  or education. But most often, racism is more subtle and insidious and is part of all aspects of our society. It’s no wonder people don’t see it, unless they have experienced it.

We would like to call you into a conversation where we examine the statement, “I’m not racist.” It is challenging because we’ve all been brought up in a society with institutional and systemic racism1,2. How we’ve been socialized frames how we view and interpret the world.

Here’s a video that discusses what systemic racism looks like in Canada:

From the video, we know that Institutional racism is caused by  institutions creating policies and practices that put racialized people at a disadvantage1. Examples of institutions include the government, educational system, and healthcare system, among others1. Systemic racism is the result of society as a whole excluding racialized people and preventing them from meaningfully participating in social institutions3.

So, when someone says, “I’m not racist,” we call them in to dig deeper. Just because someone doesn’t yell racial slurs at people on the street, doesn’t mean they aren’t  biased and prejudiced. Racism is ingrained in our institutions, and because we interact with these institutions on a daily basis, racial stereotypes and assumptions creep into our minds and affect our actions (whether we notice it or not)4. These biased unconscious or conscious beliefs, attitudes, and actions refer to individual racism1. We must consciously acknowledge these biases and deliberately work to change problematic attitudes and behaviour.

That’s why saying, “I’m not racist,” doesn’t cut it. We are all brought up around institutions and systems that are racist, so we internalize racism without even noticing it5. In a society that is racist, “it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist” – Angela Davis6.

For more information about anti-racism and anti-oppression, see No Hate in the Hammer’s Community Response to Hate.

Become an anti-racism champion!

Merely believing that racism is awful doesn’t stop it from happening in our schools, our workplaces, and beyond7. It is harming people throughout our communities.

Anti-racism champions actively work to eliminate racism. There are many different ways to be an anti-racist. We talk more about this in the section called How to be a Champion.

Toolkit Feedback